Accordo opened its fifth season on Monday night at Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis playing two major string quintets, by Mozart and Brahms. Violist Hsin-Yun Huang was guest artist. This was a bracing performance, more than exceeding Accordo’s already high standards.

The opener, Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor, featured Minnesota Orchestra concertmaster Erin Keefe, first violin, SPCO concertmaster Steven Copes, second violin, SPCO principal viola Maiya Papach, first viola, Huang, second viola, and Ronald Thomas, former principal cello of SPCO, cellist.

For Mozart, key signatures had distinct personalities, G minor being one of the most somber. He used it to give the first movement an air of inescapable tragedy.

Mozart inverted the two inner movements, putting the Menuetto is second place. But the raw, almost violent chordal interruptions made this minuet undanceable. The musicians gave the movement a strong, dramatic edge.

The following slow movement, marked Adagio, only added to the sense of tragedy. Keefe and Papach’s playing, bolstered by the other instruments, created a mood of great sadness.

Following a dirge-like opening, the finale moved into an anomalous Allegro, exuberant, even in the key of G minor. It did not seem out of place, however, because throughout, the five performers had played with commitment and enthusiasm, conveying the deep emotions with a delicate, elegant touch.

Brahms was 57 in 1890, when, on vacation in Italy, he decided to retire. He destroyed manuscripts of his uncompleted Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. His String Quintet in G major, Opus 11 was to be his final work. He came out of retirement the next year, but at the time, this work was intended to be valedictory.

In the second movement, the violas took center stage and Huang (now first viola), showed why she has an international reputation. Though she did not make as much of the cadenza-like passage as she might have.

As first violin in this piece, Copes took the lead in the third movement, playing a plaintive waltz melody that he made deeply affecting.

The finale is the most virtuosic movement, a gypsy-style melody like Brahms favored often in his career. Copes and Huang duetted dramatically, and the evening ended with thrilling fireworks from all.


William Randall Beard writes about music and theater.